Friday, 9 October 2009

Blogger's Quilt Festival

Sun Wheel Mandala Quilt
Back in the early 1990's the Crafts Council in London held a wonderful exhibition of 'New American Quilts' which I attended along with a couple of accompanying lectures. The exhibition totally blew my mind and I realised there was so much more I could do with quilting than just Log Cabin 'quilt-in-a-day'.
One of the quilts that most interested and impressed me was a small hanging by Susan Shie and Jimmy Acord, which was described as a 'Green Quilt' and had writing all over it, something I would never have even considered doing! The lecture that I most enjoyed was by Nancy Crow. I absolutely loved her quilts and her whole attitude to her 'art'
Because she had recently been on an artist exchange in China with Susan Shie, she talked about Susan and the Green Quilt movement. I remember being tremendously excited by the whole idea of Green Quilts. Very sadly this movement has now ended, but you can read a bit about its aims and objectives here
I came away from the lecture determined to get involved somehow and to make 'GreenQuilts'.
At this time I was living in a very remote part of the Scottish Borders with my husband and 2 small boys. It was an intensely creative and happy period for me, but I was also very isolated from my friends and family and (it felt like) the world. I was really fired up about environmental issues too and was always being told (by my husband!) to get off 'my soapbox'!
So when I heard about the Green Quilt movement I thought I had finally found a way of combining my creative, quilt-making side with my need to DO something and contribute to society.

I can't really remember how I got things started, this was way before the internet so I must have written letters to Susan Shie in Ohio. I certainly remember a long and friendly correspondence, and that we sent each other photos and slides of our work (so quaint!). I also received The Green Quilt Newsletter in the post from the USA.
I put an ad into The Quilter's Guild magazine asking if anybody else was interested in starting a UK Green Quilt Association. I was very excited to receive around 20 letters from quilters in Britain and Ireland who were all interested. I started a Green Quilt UK Newsletter (on paper, photocopied and sent out!) and I also started a 'Green Quilt'.
This ended up as Sun Wheel Mandala and I still have this hanging in my sewing room today. It will always be a very special quilt to me as it was my first 'art quilt' and I was, and still am, very proud of it. The New American Quilt exhibition travelled up to the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead the following year and to accompany it they had an exhibiton of new and old British quilts. I was so delighted to have this quilt chosen for the exhibition. It was also featured in that year's Fibre Arts book.

The quilt is basically constructed as 4 quarter blocks plus border. Each of the quarters is a massive, extended 'Drunkards Path' block, machine pieced on to interlining. I then embellished with beads, Indian shisha mirrors and embroidery. It is quite heavily hand quilted with different coloured quilting threads. I used batik to write the message around the edge (I was such a hippy back then!) but it didn't come out too well so I embroidered on top.
The quilt also has an official 'Green Quilt' label on the back. I would send off for these to Robin Schwalb in New York who silk screen printed them at $1 for 2. It must have been lovely getting all this correspondence from around the world in the post!

I made a few more Green Quilts and tried to motivate British quilters to get involved. I had plans to put together a slide show and take it to different quilter's groups. But I think I just ran out of time and energy. Plus I found I was making the quilts so that I could write on them, so in the end I just started writing instead! For a few years I only made 'simple' quilts for weddings and babies and put all my energy into my business and family. I feel it is only in the last few years that I have got a new 'ambition' back in to my quilting and can continue where I left off when I made Sun Wheel Mandala back in 1994.
I guess it was pretty naive to think you could change the world by making a quilt, but I still love the Green Quilt ethos of sewing love and hope into your quilts and therefore sending it out into the world.
I think that is what everyone who makes a quilt does anyway.
I am including this quilt in the Blogger's Quilt Festival organised by Park City Girl. Click here to see an amazing array or gorgeous quilts! bloggers quilt festival


  1. I totally believe you can change the world one quilt at a time. It won't happen in our lifetimes, so we just have to solider on in belief and hope.

    Beautiful sentiment for a beautiful quilt.

  2. Fascinating story and gorgeous quilt.

  3. What a beautiful quilt and an amazing story. What a shame the green quilts are no more but I am sure the sentiment lives on, be it in a non-organised way! Thank you for telling us about it.

    Your quilt is beautiful, both in intention and execution and you can be justifiably proud!

  4. Great story and beautiful quilt.

  5. Beautiful!!! LOVE your green commitment

  6. Hi Jo. Thank you so very much for making this blog entry about your lovely Green Quilt and telling the story of how you found us and how you participated, pre-internet with us. The GREEN QUILTS movement lasted 15 years, and was really down to a mightily slow trickle, when I put it to bed.
    I agree that it's ongoing, in an non-organized way. But there remains the archive of the GQ online years' newsletters on my site, (We had a snail mailed, xeroxed newsletter for many of the early years.)
    Thanks for letting me know about your blog! Let's stay in touch. Love, Susan

  7. Jo I am so glad that I have not done my post on you yet as this is just wonderful background into the movement in the nineties...well before my quilting time!

    I personally think that each quilt ...made lovingly by hand with great patience and infinite love is transforming the world...because to take the long way round as we who quilt..often by hand transformative.

    I quilt as a way to distract myself from severe nerve pain and that pain is also stitched into my quilts...its a kind of love offering and a be damned if I will give in to this pain type thing and I truly believe in the power of colour and texture and quilts to heal...individually and enmasse as in the quilts made for the bushfire victims in Victoria this year.

    I am so pleased you are now back to your creative cycle...perhaps it is all cyclical for we who are mothers much of our lives are taken up with our families and our creativity gets stifled.

    One thing I have read though and I do believe is that creativity peaks after 50...whether it is more free time or hormones who knows...but the real movement for change in the world may well come through the grey movement...or whatever we over 50's call ourselves these days!

  8. What a wonderful quilt, and a great story. You are correct--we quilters should be doing more recycling. When I first started quilting, I used more bits of fabric that other people were wanting to pass on to me, and fabric "cut aways" from clothing manufacturers. I recently made a quilt out of old jeans.

  9. I enjoyed hearing about the Green Quilts. Fascinating story. Something to think about. Your quilt is beautiful as well. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Thanks so much for all your lovely comments. Taking part in the quilt festival has been so much fun! I have loved getting in touch with other quilters and sharing all the beautiful quilts - it's going to take me a while to get through them all though!
    And lovely to hear from Susan again and from Kathleen - thanks for all your support Kathleen!

  11. Love this amazing quilt!
    Thank you for sharing.

    @ Loose Ends

  12. You did a great job for all the right reasons

  13. Very beautiful quilt .good days
    Greeting Marika

  14. I really love astronomy like quilts that have sun and star shapes in them. I was very interested in reading about the green quilt movement- there certainly a group of quilters who continue to use recycled fabrics and give quilts to others with a healing purpose.
    Nancy Crow's quilts are indeed fascinating and beautiful.
    Thanks for sharing your quilt and story- very interesting and informative.
    Warmest regards,

  15. Beautiful quilt. Love your fabrics, colors & design. You did a great job.

    Thanks for sharing and for participating in the Bloggers Quilt Festival.


  16. I really want to resurrect, and or support the resurrection of, the green quilting movement! I am trying to connect with as many people as I can that are doing up-cycling, re-cycling, and ethically sourcing cottons and fabrics! Please let me know if anyone knows of a movement out there!